17 INCHES! FOOD FOR THOUGHT

JOE’S CORNER – – — – 1 SEPTEMBER 2016

Hi, Joe here – – there is so much wisdom in this little piece; I thought

all would enjoy it.

17 INCHES! FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 

In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more

than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for

the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

 

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more

veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to

present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept

resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — "John Scolinos is

here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare."

 

Who the hell is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just

happy to be there.

 

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a

college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage

to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a

light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate

hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.  Seriously, I wondered,

who in the hell is this guy?

 

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop

hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the

snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach

Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he

had simply forgotten about home plate since he'd gotten on stage.

 

Then, finally … "You're probably all wondering why I'm wearing home

plate around my neck. Or,maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo

State Hospital," he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along

with the others, acknowledging the possibility. "No," he continued, "I

may be old, but I'm not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is

to share with you baseball people what I've learned in my life, what

I've learned about home plate in my 78 years."

 

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League

coaches were in the room. "Do you know how wide home plate is in

Little League?"

After a pause, someone offered, "Seventeen inches?", more of a

question than an answer. "That's right," he said.

 

"How about in Babe Ruth's day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the

house?" Another long pause.  "Seventeen inches?" came a guess

from another reluctant coach.

"That's right," said Scolinos.

 

"Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?"

Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. "How

wide is home plate in high school baseball?"  "Seventeen inches,"

they said, sounding more confident.  "You're right!" Scolinos barked.

 

"And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in

college?"  "Seventeen inches!" we said, in unison.

 

"Any Minor League coaches here?  How wide is home plate in pro

ball?"  "Seventeen inches!  "RIGHT!"

 

"And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major

Leagues?" "Seventeen inches!"  "SEV-EN- TEEN INCHES!" he

confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. "And what do they do

with a Big League pitcher who can't throw the ball over seventeen

inches?" Pause. "They send him to Pocatello !" he hollered, drawing

raucous laughter.

 

"What they don't do is this: they don't say, 'Ah, that's okay, Jimmy;

You can't hit a seventeen-inch target?  We'll make it eighteen inches,

or nineteen inches.  We'll make it twenty inches so you have a better

chance of hitting it.  If you can't hit that, let us know so we can make it

wider still, say twenty-five inches.'"

 

Pause.

 

"Coaches …"

 

Pause.

 

" … what do we do when our best player shows up late to

practice?  When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up

unshaven?  What if he gets caught drinking?  Do we hold him

accountable?  Or do we change the rules to fit him.  Do we widen

home plate?"

 

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet,

the fog lifting as the old coach's message began to unfold. He turned

the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw

something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house

was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.

"This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the

way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don't teach

accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to

meet standards. We widen the plate!"

 

Pause.

 

Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American

flag. "This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our

education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of

the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline

our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where

is that getting us?"

 

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.  "And this is the problem in

the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have

taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity

swept under the rug for years.  Our church leaders are widening home

plate for themselves!  And we allow it."

 

"And the same is true with our government. Our so called

representatives make rules for us that don't apply to themselves.

They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries.  They no

longer serve us.  And we allow them to widen home plate and we see

our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch."

 

I was amazed.  At a baseball convention where I expected to learn

something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better

practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old

man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something

about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my

responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others account-

able to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and

our society continue down an undesirable path.

 

"If I am lucky," Coach Scolinos concluded, "you will remember one

thing from this old coach today.  It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves

to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail

to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are

unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet

the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government

fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but

one thing to look forward to …"

 

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around,

and revealed its dark black backside. "… dark days ahead."

 

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching

the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including

mine.  Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning

year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other

coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known

because he was so much more than a baseball coach.

 

His message was clear: "Coaches, keep your players—no matter how

good they are—your own children, your churches, your

government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."

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